Dear Not-Too-Sensitive One,
You know who you are.
My whole life, you've told me I'm too sensitive. I need to toughen up. I feel too much. I care too much. I love too much.
I know you tell me these things because you're trying to help me.
Or maybe it just annoys you.
When I tell you how I feel, sometimes you roll your eyes. "Here we go again," you think, "she's taking things personally again."
Maybe you don't even physically roll them. But I know what you're thinking. I sense your annoyance.
I sense it because I'm Highly Sensitive.
"Damn right," you say, "beyond the moon sensitive."
You're right. Sometimes I am beyond the moon sensitive.
But what I'm talking about here is science, grounded in real down-to-earth research.
A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a term used to describe the 15-20 percent of earth's population who have a genetic trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).
Dr. Elaine Aron, a pioneering researcher on high sensitivity has been studying and publishing her findings on this trait since the '90s and made it mainstream with her bestselling book, The Highly Sensitive Person. But before Dr. Aron's groundbreaking book, Carl Jung wrote about it extensively in the early 1900s using the term "innate sensitiveness."
Because of this innate trait, our brains actually process things differently and more deeply than those without high sensitivity. In fact, fMRI studies have proven that different parts of our brains are activated in lesser or greater degrees than those without high SPS. But it's not only our brain, our biology is actually different. For example, research shows that our nervous system is designed to observe and detect subtle differences in our environment. We are more easily overstimulated because of our neurological degree of reactivity and responsiveness to external stimuli.
While science plays a crucial role in helping all of us understand the world and each other better, what I really want to tell you today doesn't come from a brain study, it comes from my heart.
It comes from decades of being misunderstood, shamed and guilted into believing I'm flawed, weak and broken. First for my introversion, then for my sensitivity.
Today, I write from a place of quiet strength and power, having finally discovered who I truly am, what I'm made of and how my sensitivity actually serves me.
It's from this place that I'd like to share with you some of the things I've discovered about me, and through my work, hundreds of other Highly Sensitive people.
1) Sensitive does not equal weak.
High sensitivity is not a weakness, it's a superpower. But in the same way that Superman has his kryptonite, so too do I have mine. The difference is that my kryptonite isn't green and it doesn't come from another planet. It's right here on this earth in the form of cruelty, ignorance, hate and fear.
When I see an animal suffering at the hands of man, I die a little inside.
But like my body cells, I regenerate.
My emotional well runs deep, but so too does my ability to climb out after a fall. One thing you may not know about me is that I fall everyday. Multiple times. And every day, I stand back up, wipe the dust off and keep going.
Why do I fall? Because I risk. I dare to open my heart.
And hand you a key... or a knife.
That's mighty dumb of me, you might think. But I don't want to be the type of person who sees a starving dog on the street and keeps driving without another thought other than what I might cook for dinner tonight.
I love that I. HAVE. TO. pull over, give up the rest of my plans for the day and spend 5 hours coaxing it to come to me so I can show it that this world is beautiful and kind and good.
This makes me feel incredibly human. And that makes me incredibly grateful.
I risk because I dare to be affected, to care "too much," to listen to the lonely old lady in the waiting room at the doctor's office, really listen to her, not just her words, but to everything inside her screaming to be heard because everyone else she knows and loves is dead. And because her children are too busy with their own children to listen. And because her words will soon never be spoken again and that terrifies her more than anything she's ever lived through.
Sometimes empathizing, loving and caring deeply about others means I get hurt.
But always, it means I'm being true to myself and honoring my innate sensitivity to feel deeply.
Does this make me weak?
I think it makes me stronger than any thunderous beast of titans out there.
2) I don't need the world to coddle me.
I'm not a delicate flower that could fall apart with the slightest touch.
Actually, I take that back.
Yes, I am.
But it's possible to be a delicate flower and an indestructible pillar at the same time.
So please don't walk on eggshells around me. I don't need you to make up lies or tiptoe around a subject for fear of hurting my feelings. Hurt feelings are the least of my concerns. In fact, being inauthentic around me actually hurts me more. While I appreciate the sentiment, it's not your responsibility to make sure I'm OK. It's mine. If you say something that hurts my feelings, so be it. I'm a big girl, I can handle it.
Just because I'm crying, doesn't mean I'm not handling it. In fact, that's precisely HOW I'm handling it. I take your information in, process it, run it through my system, tears come out and I'm done.
3) I feel your feelings.
This is not one of those we-are-all-one '60s hippie statements to get you to feel warm and fuzzy, understood and validated. For me, this is a literal statement. I actually FEEL your feelings. As though they were mine. When you're sad, that sadness seeps into me, as if it were my own sadness.
So when you get annoyed at me, not only do I feel your annoyance toward me, I actually get annoyed too. It's a double whammy, like being the puncher and the punched all at the same time.
Think of me as an emotional sponge. In the same way your kitchen sponge absorbs water, I absorb emotions. Your kitchen sponge has no more say in this than I do. It's just the way it's made. Likewise, it's just the way I'm made. Fortunately, I've learned how to use my biology to only absorb the emotions I choose to take in, but there are many other Highly Sensitive and empathic people out there who haven't yet learned this.
So please go easy on them.
You think you have a hard time dealing with your own sadness or anxiety? Try dealing with yours AND the 10 other people standing around you in the grocery store. It's enough to make one crazy. This is why we often seem "too emotional" for you. It's because WE ARE. There are way too many emotions bombarding us at any given time.
4) Enough with the well-meaning advice.
Telling me to toughen up is like telling me to change the best parts of me. I tried turning off my compassion and empathy once but then I felt cold and uncaring. And even though sometimes being soft and emotionally invested hurts, it feels better than hard and indifferent.
I've learned ways to take your advice and incorporate it into my life. But that was when I was young and impressionable and had no idea that I'm allowed to be who I am without apology or explanation. I thought I had to be the way you and everyone else told me to be.
And that's when I built walls of steel around my heart to protect myself from feeling too much. When I discovered the steel was penetrable, I pulled a Wolverine and replaced it with adamantium.
But I didn't know then that no matter how impenetrable your heart to outside forces, it still beats from within.
Now I know that no matter how many protective walls and fortresses I build around me, no matter how much thicker my skin becomes, I'm still the same ol' sensitive me inside.
So it's time to accept that and tear down those walls, let the sunshine in, breathe the fresh open air and just BE.
You can keep giving me the same ol' advice if you want, but I'm just going to be me now.
Sensitive and free.
5) You and I, we're fundamentally the same.
We're really not that different when it comes to living the human condition. Maybe we process things differently, but we both pretty much have the same deep yearnings for a happy, fulfilling life, to raise good, decent children and be worthy enough to matter to someone when we die.
Maybe my brain fires neurons causing me to feel deeply, but I know you feel too. Of course you do. I know you fall. I know you hurt. I know you've been in the arena, face marred by dust and sweat and blood too. Maybe more times than you'd like.
I know people have given you advice that goes against who you are. And I know you've felt misunderstood, broken and flawed at times too. Like you're just not good enough, no matter how hard you try.
Like me, you probably act more together than you feel sometimes. You probably put on a fake smile in public and forge ahead with busy, endless activity in pursuit of success and the American dream of more, more, more, when all you really want is just to go home, crawl into bed and watch Netflix all day. I know, because I do the same.
There's nothing any more special about me than there is about you. While that may sound insulting, it's actually the best damn compliment I can think of. We try so hard to be special and unique, but the truth is we all eat, shit and sleep.
And we all feel.
That's what makes us human.
That's what makes us beautiful.
Sensitive or not.
Tree Franklyn is the author of The Ultimate Emotional Survival Guide for Empaths and Highly Sensitive Women Who Feel Deeply. If you're struggling with your sensitivity, you can get 7 easy & actionable grounding techniques to use today to help manage your painful emotions by clicking here (free).